A Critical Look at the Pros and Cons of Digital Rights Management

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Pros and Cons of Digital Rights Management

Digital rights management has largely received a negative response from consumers. Techspirited explains the pros and cons of this technology.

Did You Know?

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown couldn’t watch the movies he received as a gift from US President Barack Obama during his 2009 US visit, because the DVDs were secured by digital rights management technology, which prevented them from being played by British DVD players.

The advent of technology, in recent years, has made it much easier for developers to sell their content. The growth of the Internet has spurred an increase in the ebook industry, along with the online sales of digital music. There has also been a spurt in online providers of TV shows and movies, such as Netflix. As the digitization of content corresponds with a decrease in the sales of physical media, like CDs and DVDs, this trend is only going to rise.

The growth of digital content is not without its pitfalls though. Online piracy, where illegal copies of copyrighted material are circulated via the Internet is only increasing. In fact, this phenomenon is not limited to digitized content alone; the falling prices of optical scanners have ensured that even books in print are scanned and shared as ebooks. Obviously, publishers and developers haven’t taken to this scenario kindly, as they tend to suffer huge financial losses. Let us understand the pros and cons of digital rights management, a technology which attempts to tackle this problem.

What Does ‘Digital Rights Management’ Mean?

Digital rights management (DRM) is a set of measures that control how digitized content can be used by purchasers, to protect the rights of copyright holders. DRM techniques, also called digital locks, prevent users from making copies, lending, and modifying the secured content, which may include ebooks, music, movies, video games, and so on. The following examples highlight how DRM can be used in different media.

►Use of license keys to activate a product.
►Preventing DVDs from playing outside a particular region.
►Restricting the number of devices an ebook can be read on.
►Requiring access to the Internet each time a game is played.


❑ The restrictions on copying or lending digitized material creates a barrier against piracy, and protects the rights of the copyright holder.

❑ Preventing illegal sharing ensures that the developers and artists make a good profit from their investment.

❑ Using DRM-protected material sends a message to consumers, that the company is providing valuable content.

❑ It assures companies that their product is secure, and therefore motivates them to deliver high-end content.

❑ Digital rights management can be an advantage to consumers too, by providing features like preventing children from accessing adult/violent content, and using full versions of products for a trial period before purchasing them.


❑ It prevents users from rightfully using the content as they wish, despite legitimately purchasing it. Consumers may have to face several inconveniences, such as the following.

►Copying content is not allowed, even for backup purposes.
►Cannot access the product using multiple devices, even if one owns them all.
►Cannot select and copy text to cite in research work, or print ebook pages for reading.
►Cannot use screen readers for text-to-speech translation for the visually-challenged.
►Lending the product, even to family members, is not allowed. This causes problems for libraries.

❑ This technology can adversely affect sales, as consumers may choose to stay away from secured products. In fact, it has been observed that problems with DRM-protected products can drive up customer service calls by up to ten times.

❑ DRM techniques that include online registration help companies track purchases made by a user, intruding on their privacy.

❑ The cost of securing content with DRM is borne by consumers in the form of high prices.

❑ While its main aim is to prevent piracy, almost all DRM systems can be cracked. Even a single unlocked copy is capable of fueling piracy networks.

❑ Limiting the number of devices on which content is accessible can make it obsolete as technology progresses.

❑ DRM can limit the accessibility of even that content which is in the public domain.

The controversy over digital rights management shows no signs of abating anytime soon. To reduce the backlash from consumers, developers can focus on making this technology as user-friendly as possible, while directing the inconvenience to pirates.

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